RUSTENBURG, South Africa - When they emerged victorious the last time, it was called "The Game of Their Lives."
Once-unknown players have spent a lifetime reliving memories of that unexpected night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, when the United States rose up and defeated mighty England in the World Cup in 1950.
Sixty years removed and 4,449 miles from that stadium, the nations finally meet again today in a game that matters, the opening Group C match in this year's World Cup.
Once again, England is stocked with the talented and the wealthy, carrying the hopes of long-suffering supporters who still believe even though 44 years have passed since the Three Lions' only World Cup title. And while the Americans are no longer obscure and many have gained experience with the very Premier League clubs that produced England's stars, they remain outsiders, still eager to earn the respect of the soccer powers.
So, in refurbished Royal Bofokeng Stadium, in the open savannah bushveld near platinum mines and game parks filled with elephants and baboons, soccer's English-speaking power and English-speaking upstart face off for pride, and, more importantly, three points toward reaching the second round.
"We believe we're going to win," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said last night. "It's said with no disrespect to our opponent. We certainly know that it will take a strong, strong effort on our part."
For England, the U.S. seems to be sort of a generic opponent, like the teams that lose to the Harlem Globetrotters. During coach Fabio Capello's 9-minute prematch news conference, there was not a single reference to the Americans.
"We are sure that we go forward in this competition," Capello said.
American stars Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard have succeeded in the fast-paced English club game. And last year, they finished second in the Confederations Cup, beating African champion Egypt 3-0 in this very stadium and European champion Spain 2-0 in the semifinal befiore losing the final to Brazil.
"The USA are very hard working - very fit and physical," England captain Steven Gerrard said. "They will be trying to deny us time and space on the ball. They know we have quality on the ball. We are expecting to be pressed really quickly. I'm sure it will be a good physical battle."
As was celebrated in a movie, the U.S. won the 1950 game 1-0 on a 38th-minute goal by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitan immigrant who wasn't even an American citizen. Gaetjens disappeared in 1964, presumed killed in Haiti by forces of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
American players who triumphed, like Northeast Philly native Walter Bahr, have gained increased prominence this year.